What is Hanukkah and how is it celebrated?


Hanukkah. Celebrate the miraculous Judean triumph led by the Maccabee brothers over Assyrian-Greek religious persecution, ca., 164 BCE. Light the menorah, a candleholder for nine candles (one added each night, plus one to light the rest). Play dreidel (spinning top game) and eat latkes (potatoes pancakes).

HanukkahThe story of Hanukkah is a story of a struggle from Assyrian-Greek religious persecution. Over two thousand years ago, the foreign rulers of the Israelites decreed that the Jews must bow down to the image of their leader, Antiochus, whose statue had been erected in the Jewish Temple. Jews, however, are forbidden by the law to bow to statues or idols. A young man named Judah Maccabee and his brothers assembled a small group of Jews to rebel against their oppressors. The Maccabees and their followers risked their lives to prevent the desecration of their sacred Temple and to live in accordance with Jewish law. Although the Maccabees won, the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews' holy place, was destroyed in the battle. The Jews had to clean and repair the Temple, and when they were finished they rededicated it to God by rekindling the menorah, the candelabrum that symbolizes not only the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, but the continuity of tradition through the generations as well. There was only enough olive oil to fuel the menorah for one night, and it was going to take eight days to make more oil. Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil burned for eight days and nights until more oil could be made. There are eight days of Hanukkah corresponding to the legend of the miracle of the oil in the Temple.

Menorah and DreidelsFoods cooked in oil, particularly potato pancakes called latkes, are traditional Hanukkah fare. Today, candles are used instead of oil to light menorahs. On each successive night, while singing the traditional prayers, the number of candles lit increases by one. Hanukkah is celebrated in the home beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Even though it is not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, Hanukkah is widely celebrated as a major holy day of the Jewish liturgical calendar. Given its proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah has taken on importance in the United States and many other countries where Christmas has been commercialized. It is traditional to exchange gifts with friends and relatives on each night of Hanukkah. The party atmosphere is enhanced with songs, games and toys such as a dreidel - a spinning top. Hanukkah is a time of joyous celebrations, of family and friends, and of freedom.

Also See: JOI's Hanukkah Holiday Page